Wisdom From YA Authors on Leaving Home: Tamora Pierce

Aug 6, 2016
Originally published on September 1, 2016 11:32 am
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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Throughout August, we'll bring you stories and some advice from authors who've written for young people about the crucial moment when they've left home and set out in the world on their own. It's a series we call Next Chapter. Our first author is a fantasy writer, Tamora Pierce. Her books are full of knights and mythical creatures, but if you haven't read her work before, she says she wants to know that...

TAMORA PIERCE: First, last, foremost and always in my books girls kick butt.

SIMON: She brings us back to 1972, the summer before she left for college. She lived in Uniontown, Pa.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

PIERCE: My mother, my two sisters and I lived in one room in a residential hotel. We were on welfare. I wore proper girl dresses of the early 1970s. My hemlines were about an inch above my knee. I had black framed glasses because that was all welfare would pay for. I was cute, not pretty, until I opened my mouth and then a lot of people decided I was smart and a snob.

I did not talk about where I lived. I did not talk about being on welfare. I was bitterly ashamed of it. I was tired of being poor. I was tired of shopping on food stamps and getting the fisheye from the women who rang up the groceries. I was tired of it all. And college was my gateway to freedom.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TRIAL BY FIRE")

JEFFERSON AIRPLANE: (Singing) Going to move out on the highway, make this moment last.

PIERCE: You always dream of something, and then reality always dumps you on your butt. There were still those cliques, the pretty girls who were interested in toenail polish and the fashionable sandals. We found that there were our own bills to pay, meals to worry about. You were struggling for grade point averages, you were worried if your boyfriend was going to get drafted.

But the cultural experiences were as mind-widening as the classroom experiences. And in the summer following my junior year, I sold my first short story. You can do, you can be anything you want. You may have to work very, very hard. You have to be willing to give things up.

That's why your parents turn green when you tell them you want to be an artist or a rock star or a writer because they'd like you to have those things like regular meals. So I advise people get a job in systems engineering, computer design, secretarial work. I found secretarial work paid the bills but left my brain clear to compose for writing.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HAVE YOU SEEN THE STARS TONITE")

JEFFERSON STARSHIP: (Singing) Have you seen the stars tonight?

SIMON: Tamora Pierce, author of the "Song Of The Lioness" series. And we've been hearing music by Paul Kantner and Jefferson Airplane, which she chose. Tamora Pierce is part of our series Next Chapter.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HAVE YOU SEEN THE STARS TONITE")

JEFFERSON STARSHIP: (Singing) Would you like to go up for a stroll and keep me company? Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.